April 10, 2020

How to Be a Hero

we immediately think of doctors, EMT’s, nurses–anyone working in healthcare right now. but I wanted to go more granular; can any of us be a hero?

This essay is Day 4 of The 100 Day Project, where I’m creating #100daysofartandessays based on the Word of the Day.

Word of the Day (April 10, 2020)

hero noun

  1. a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character: He became a local hero when he saved the drowning child.
  2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal: My older sister is my hero. Entrepreneurs are our modern heroes.

Yesterday morning I was reading Peace is Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hanh. He shares a poem by a friend, then says:

“…it is exactly the way we practice mindfulness. We try to be in touch with life and look deeply as we drink our tea, walk, sit down, or arrange flowers. The secret of the success is that you are really yourself, and when you are really yourself, you can encounter life in the present moment.”

Imagine if every one of us walked through the world like this all the time. If we could cultivate this kind of awareness.

I have a 5 year old. I’m not a naturally patient person. So when I think of awareness, I often think of emotions and feelings. Most of us, after an endlessly frustrating day, will eventually erupt in anger at that final straw. It’s only after that, if at all, that we notice we were angry. Then we over-identify with it; “I am angry.” If practicing mindfulness, the goal is to preemptively notice the emotion, with curiosity. It’s framed differently: “oh, there’s anger.” It gives you the opportunity to diffuse the situation before things get out of hand. This sounds simple. In practice it’s incredibly difficult.

In thinking about this word, hero, I wrote a haiku:

unafraid to be
a hero

My intention was to say that egolessness is being unafraid to be. As in just being, present, aware. Not running away from your emotions, or justifying your reactions to protect your ego. Sitting with them, being curious about what they mean, what you can learn from them. It’s a choice you have to make constantly. But if you read this haiku while imagining a doctor in harm’s way, you could also read it as “someone is egoless, therefore they’re unafraid to be a hero.” Both can be true. But to get to the second meaning you have to practice the first.

If you strive to be fully present, full of gratitude, and cultivating awareness while sheltering-in-place with your family, while trying to work, while homeschooling your kids, while creating some semblance of routine in this chaos we’re all living through… then you’re a hero.

“If I cannot detach from a person or event or feeling when it is needed or appropriate, then I can take it as certain that I am overidentified, overly attached, or even enmeshed. This could be called unawareness, the unawakened state, or blindness. Seemingly, this is true of most people, because no one ever told them there was another way.” – Richard Rohr (The Naked Now)

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